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Donald Trump judicial nominees backlog spurs conservative charges of religious bigotry

January 23, 2019

Conservatives are turning up the heat on Senate Democrats to fill the growing number of federal judicial vacancies, blaming the backlog in part on Democratic hostility to the traditional religious beliefs of some White House nominees.

The Judicial Crisis Network has rolled out a $1.5 million cable and digital ad campaign accusing Democrats of “taking their obstruction to disgraceful new lows, shamefully bullying nominees, attacking them because of their faith.”

President Trump on Tuesday released the names of the 51 nominees he intends to renominate to the federal bench, but there are now 163 vacancies, more than the 125 when he took office in 2017, causing consternation on the right.

“Democrats have reached an extreme low with their obstructionist tactics now involving smears and religious tests,” said Penny Nance, president and CEO of Concerned Women for America. “President Trump and Republicans need to expose this extremism for what it is and move forward immediately to confirm constitutionalist judges and fill the record number of judicial vacancies the nation faces.”

More than 30 judicial nominees had passed committee muster and were awaiting floor votes at the end of the year before Senate Democrats blocked them.

Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director for the Judicial Crisis Network, said Senate Democrats increasingly have required cloture votes for nominees to the federal bench.

“There are now more vacancies than there were on Inauguration Day,” Ms. Severino said. “Time for Democrats to stop the bullying and obstruction and confirm the judges.”

Democrats, meanwhile, are feeling mounting pressure from the left to put the brakes on judicial nominations submitted by Mr. Trump, who has placed a whopping 85 federal judges on the bench, including a record 30 U.S. Circuit Court judges.

President Obama was able to seat only 10 federal appeals court judges in his first two years in office.

The resistance is coming from groups such as Demand Justice, which has blasted “Donald Trump’s takeover of our courts,” and the Alliance for Justice, which has praised Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, for refusing to approve the customary year-end package of judicial nominees.

“There is no reason to rush forward to confirm all the remaining nominees now in the lame-duck session, when the Senate can return next year to deliberate on each of them individually,” Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron said in a Dec. 19 statement.

Daniel Goldberg, legal director of the Alliance for Justice, argued that the White House had only itself to blame for the growing pushback by failing to consult with Democrats on vacancies and by proposing controversial nominees such as Thomas Farr, whose nomination was derailed in late November.

“What the Senate Democrats are doing is insisting on a full vetting of individuals who will be adjudicating the constitutional rights of the American people for the next several decades,” Mr. Goldberg said.

He dismissed the charge as “ridiculous” that Democrats are targeting nominees based on their religious faith.

“It’s disturbing that many nominees the president has nominated have records of trying to undermine the rights of women, of LGBTQ Americans,” Mr. Goldberg said. “And I think it’s perfectly legitimate and consistent with the Senate’s advise-and-consent rule to probe nominees’ records to determine whether they will in fact enforce the Constitution for all Americans.”

On the other side are conservatives who are increasingly alarmed by what they see as the Democratic Party’s “religious litmus test” for nominees, particularly Catholics.

U.S. Circuit Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett was grilled about her Catholic faith during her 2017 confirmation hearing. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, told her that the “dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s a concern.”

Sen. Kamala D. Harris, California Democrat, and Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, Hawaii Democrat, were accused last month of bigotry for quizzing judicial nominee Brian Buescher about his membership in the Knights of Columbus, a 137-year-old Catholic fraternal service organization.

In written questions, Ms. Hirono asked Mr. Buescher whether he would quit the Knights if confirmed, prompting a backlash from Catholic and religious freedom groups.

“Americans of faith have witnessed the anti-Christian bigotry toward judicial nominees who openly profess their Christian faith,” said Tim Head, executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition.

He called on Senate Democrats to “immediately halt their unprecedented and unconstitutional objections to President Trump’s nominees to the federal courts, who are all outstanding jurists who will respect the rule of law and the Constitution.”

Conservatives have an ally in Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who took over last week as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and has promised to keep up the pressure to approve judicial nominees.

“The confirmation of conservative judges will be one of my top priorities as Chairman,” Mr. Graham said in a statement.

In a second ad running in South Carolina, the Judicial Crisis Network urged viewers to tell Mr. Graham to “keep standing up to the bullies. Keep confirming the judges.”

″[Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell has restated his commitment to filling the vacancies and has maintained that this is a Senate priority,” Ms. Severino said. “It’s time for Democrats to end the bullying and smear campaigns and confirm the judges.”

⦁ Alex Swoyer contributed to this report.

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